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2014 Team Report: Houston Texans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backup(s): Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage [R]

Starting QB: Matt Schaub was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a late-round pick in the off season ending his tenure with the Texans. Depending on who you ask, that may have been a good move for the Texans. Houston signed veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick in the off season, but they also were targeting a quarterback in the draft to be the heir apparent for the franchise. The draft unfolded in an unfavorable manner for Houston, as all the big quarterback draft prospects worth taking a gamble on were picked in the first round. They did draft a quarterback in the fourth round, Tom Savage. The early indication is that Fitzpatrick will begin the year as the starter. Fitzpatrick started as the Titans backup quarterback last season, only to find himself starting by week four due to an injury to Jake Locker. Fitzpatrick is a middle of the road, average quarterback with an average arm. In this stage of his career, he is best suited as a backup, but Houston may not have that luxury. It's possible that Case Keenum or even Savage could eventually get the nod under center, but the long and short of it is, Houston has a weakness at the quarterback position.

Backup QB: In a post-preseason move, the Texans decided to trade for long time Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The cost was a seventh round pick that could turn into a sixth round pick based on his playing time. Houston now has a budding quarterback to back up veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Mallett has knowledge of Bill O'Brien's offense from when O'Brien was a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator with New England. He should be able to adjust to the Texans offense faster than any other option and other options are scarce. The expected outlook is for Fitzpatrick to start, but the strong-armed Mallett will be waiting in the wings for an opportunity to finally prove himself as a starter in the league. The addition of Mallett would give the receiving corps a slight upgrade due to his strong arm and ability to stretch the field - something that Fitzpatrick lacks in his arsenal. If Mallett hits, Houston could have their quarterback of the future. The thought process is that if Fitzpatrick is replaced by Mallett at some point this season, it may wind up being a permanent move.

Running Backs

Starter: Arian Foster
Backup(s): Jonathan Grimes, Alfred Blue, William Powell, Ronnie Brown
Fullback(s): Brad Smelley, Jay Prosch, Toben Opurum

Starting RB: One of the reasons for Houston's 2-14 season last year was the loss of Arian Foster to season ending back surgery to repair a disc. Foster was hampered by knee, back and calf injuries to begin the year. The time off may have been the best move for his career, because it allowed him time to rest his other ailments, while rehabbing and getting prepared for another season as the team's primary rushing option and all-purpose bellcow back. Coming into last season, Foster was working on his fourth year in a row with double-digit rushing touchdowns. His career rushing average is 4.5 and in those last three years of dominance, he averaged 53 receptions. Foster may be fully healthy and ready to run over the league, however this is not the same team that dominated offensively. The quarterback position is up in the air with no savior in sight. The offense could struggle to find a rhythm week to week and defenses will be keying on stopping Foster. The loss of Gary Kubiak, the architect of the running game that made Foster highly successful, is also a concern. There is room for optimism with Foster's return to health and we've seen Adrian Peterson thrive on a similarly weak passing offense. This season could cement his legacy as we determine how special Arian Foster is.

Backup RBs: Ben Tate signed with Cleveland in the off season and is out of the picture in Houston. Andre Brown, who was signed to be Tate's replacement, was recently released. The move elevates Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue into the mix to be Arian Foster's backup. The Texans have a new coaching staff in place, which makes it difficult to project offensive style of play, but the expectation is that new Head Coach Bill O'Brien will lean heavily on the ground game. If all goes as planned, Arian Foster will be the majority rusher while Grimes, Blue, Dennis Johnson and newly signed William Powell (formerly of Arizona) will battle for the backup role. At 6'2, 225 pounds, rookie sixth round pick Blue is a bigger back who gives the running game more of a power attack, while Grimes is more versatile, especially as a receiving option. Grimes made a name for himself with a week 17 performance that included 126 total yards on 22 touches (6 receptions) and one rushing touchdown. He has shown he can be an effective running back in the league, which may earn him the back up role heading into the 2014 season.

Fullback: Veteran fullback Greg Jones, lead the way for Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster, is currently an unsigned free agent. This opens the door for Brad Smelley, a former tight end, turned fullback. Smelley tore his calf muscle at the end of last season, after failing to record a stat in the two games he appeared in last year. He is not expected to see many rushing duties, if any at all. His presence will most likely be in the passing game as an H-back catching passes in the flat.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins
Backups: Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, Alan Bonner, Mike Thomas, Andy Cruse, Uzoma Nwachukwu

Starting WRs: Andre Johnson has expressed some interest about wanting out of Houston to pursue greener pastures. If he stays with the team this season, he will continue to be the primary target in the offense. He is not the type of player who will sacrifice his game because it's not where he wants to be. Johnson is entering his 12th year in the league, where he has had five seasons of 100 receptions or more, including each of the last two. The Texans passing game is in a rebuilding stage. If Johnson is going to reach his third consecutive year of 100+ receptions, his best chance is with current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Johnson thrived in the past with David Carr at quarterback, so it may not matter who lines up under center. The other wide out position will be occupied by second year receiver and former first round pick, DeAndre Hopkins. The former Clemson Tiger could be thrust into more of a receiving role if Andre Johnson is traded. If that's not the case, Hopkins will still be an integral part of the offense, particularly in the red zone, where he can use his long frame and leaping ability to his advantage. Hopkins hasn't reached expectations, but many budding receivers aren't that productive in their rookie year. This season will be a good test for the talented youngster, especially with an unpromising quarterback situation.

Backup WRs: The Texans wide receiver corps after Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins are third year pros Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey. Martin has more quickness and elusiveness than Posey and will battle him for the third wide receiver role. Martin figures to see more involvement this year, mostly in the short to intermediate passing game. Martin was limited to 2.5 targets per game in 2013 playing in all 16 games. He scored two touchdowns in 2013 despite limited snaps. Posey has good separation skills for his 6'2 frame and can make defenders miss in the open field. He is the favorite to win the third receiving role, however he is a not considered to be a strong fantasy option. After Johnson and Hopkins, the next in line for receiving production is the duo of tight ends Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin.

Tight Ends

Starters: Garrett Graham
Backups: Ryan Griffin, C.J. Fiedorowicz

Longtime Texans tight end Owen Daniels, is now with the Baltimore Ravens, opening the door for Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin. Graham emerged last year, in his fourth season in the league, catching 5 touchdowns with 49 receptions. Former head coach Gary Kubiak was big on tight end involvement and that should continue in Bill O'Brien's offense. The Texans will often use a two-tight end set featuring Graham and second year pro Ryan Griffin. Both are expected to see the field at the same time and give the Texans options on offense. Griffin came on strong at the end of the year and will look to pick up where he left off. Both are capable receivers, but the questions at quarterback could limit the duo to the point where lack of consistency will keep them from being viable fantasy options unless the other is forced to miss time. Rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is a big two-way tight end prospect who could end up being the best fantasy option on the roster in a year or two, and he should help them maintain a two tight end set base offense through any injuries. Fiedorowicz is projected to compete for the in-line tight end role, which is the same position Rob Gronkowski played for Bill O'Brien when he was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots. He will battle Ryan Griffin for playing time, but there is already some degree of interest from the Texans in getting their third round pick reps in his rookie season.

Place Kicker

Randy Bullock: Kicker Randy Bullock struggled at times last year, hitting 26 of 35 (74.3%) field goals. He’ll be working with the returning co-specialists: punter/holder Shane Lechler and long snapper Jonathan Weeks. After back-to-back years in the top five in attempted kicking points, the Texans slipped to 19th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Damaris Johnson, Chris Polk, Keshawn Martin

With primary kick returner Danieal Manning no longer on the roster, Houston's return game should look different this season. The team will likely audition players in the preseason, with possibilities including former returners Damaris Johnson and Keshawn Martin. Martin in particular may find himself fighting for a roster spot. A new arrival that the Texans may look at closely is running back Chris Polk. Polk returned 11 kickoffs for 340 yard and a touchdown while playing for Philadelphia last season.

Punt Returners: Damaris Johnson, Keshawn Martin

Receiver Keshawn Martin handled 25 punt returns for Houston last year, while Damaris Johnson had 9. Both performed poorly with close to a 6 yard average. The Texans may wish to find an upgrade but failed to add anyone this offseason with significant punt return experience. This may be another situation where a number of players are given an audition in the preseason to try to take over the job.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo [R], C Chris Myers, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Derek Newton
Key Backups: T Brennan Williams, G/C Ben Jones, T David Quessenberry, G/C Cody White

The Texans’ line was considered an elite unit as recently as last season. However their level of play slipped in 2013, for various reasons. Specifically, there were several key injuries that effected play and one key departure that saw the line grade out more as a mid-tier unit as we enter this season. The Texans’ elite talent, left tackle Duane Brown, had an up and down season where he battled turf toe and personal foul penalties. Brown eventually got it together and was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. The team looks for Brown to recapture his All-Pro form from two seasons ago. Chris Myers, the team’s other top level line talent, remains one of the better zone blocking centers in the league, although not quite as dominant as in previous seasons. It’s possible that wear and tear is having an effect, as Myers will be entering his 10th season. In related news, the team allowed long time left guard Wade Smith to run out his contract. Smith had been playing at a Pro Bowl level recently, but given his age, his departure was not unexpected. The team will look to second round pick Xavier S’ua-Filo from UCLA to compete with former Georgia Bulldog Ben Jones to win that position. I am picking S’ua-Filo to win the job and Jones, a former college center, will backup the interior line positions. While both of these players are young and talented, the loss of Smith is an impact to the line’s cohesion. At right guard, Brandon Brooks is a work in progress and the team also might be losing patience with right tackle Derek Newton. The coaching staff is reportedly high on Brennan Williams and David Quessenberry, both of whom spent last season on injured reserve. These players (Williams especially) could push Newton in preseason and should steal the job outright sooner or later. Williams might have taken the job last year, had he not been injured. Overall this line is one in transition, but can climb back up to the top of the rankings should the left guard, right guard and right tackle positions improve.

Team Defense

The Texans seem to have set out to put together an unstoppable pass rush and they may done just that. J.J. Watt is the single most disruptive defensive lineman in the league and now he has a lot of help. Rookies Jadeveon Clowney and Louis Nix will join Watt on what is sure to be the most highly hyped front seven. Behind those three the linebacker corps will be anchored by Brian Cushing. Cushing is a star in his own right, when he can stay on the field. The Texans have some questions in the secondary, but they should be helped greatly by the disruptive front seven. D.J. Swearinger made an impact at safety as a rookie and corner Jonathan Joseph has nine interceptions since joining the team in 2011. The impact Watt has on the rookies, and vice versa, will tell the story on this season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt, DT Vince Wilfork, DE Jared Crick
Backups: DE Keith Browner, DT Louis Nix, DE Jeoffrey Pagan

Starting DL: J.J. Watt once again posted an amazing season. Not only did he tie his personal sack record with 20.5 sacks, but he also scored an eye-popping five touchdowns. So stellar was his play that he was considered a strong contender for the MVP award, a feat that few defensive players ever manage. This unit was arguably improved via free agency by picking up Vince Wilfork. It was a little bit of a surprise when the Patriots did not pick up Wilfork’s option. The Texans were the benefactor of this unexpected move and signed him to a two-year deal. Though age is starting to become a concern, Wilfork will probably have enough in the tank, especially when paired with Watt, to create matchup nightmares along the trenches. Jared Crick is no Watt (to be fair, no one else is on Watt’s level in the NFL right now), but did show steady improvement last year as the starter opposite Watt.

Backup DL: Nix was recently ripped publicly by coach Bill O’Brien for problems with durability and work ethic. The Texans seem to be signaling that Wilfork will have the starting job for the next year or two, while hoping he can be a good mentor to Nix. Sixth-rounder Jeoffery Pagan played well rotationally as a rookie last year and will continue to fill that role heading into 2015. Last year, former UDFA Keith Browner was called up from the practice squad when Tim Jamison was injured. The Texans seem satisfied to keep him as the backup to Watt and Crick at this time.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Brian Cushing, ILB Justin Tuggle, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Jadeveon Clowney
Backups: ILB Akeem Dent, ILB Jeff Tarpinian, OLB John Simon, OLB Jason Ankrah

Starting LBs: Brian Cushing once again finished the season with less than sixteen games played and offseason surgeries for multiple issues. There’s no question he’s a vital chess piece for the Texans when he’s healthy, however. Before joining the Texans last year, Justin Tuggle was a UDFA, but the son of ex-Falcon Jesse Tuggle showed promise in his limited opportunities. Jadeveon Clowney struggled mightily with injury in his rookie season before being shut down for the year to have a microfracture procedure. However, Coach Bill O’Brien made it clear in March that he is optimistic about Clowney in year two and believes he can make a big difference rushing the passer. The Texans have a big decision to make with regard to Whitney Mercilus, who has not proven to be the force the Texans were hoping he would be after drafting him in the first round of the 2012 draft. If they apply the fifth-year option, Mercilus will be due nearly 8 million this year, making him one of the top-five paid options at the position. The deadline falls a day after the draft, so the Texans will most likely wait until the last moment to either apply the option or let Mercilus walk.

Backup LBs: Last year, the Texans acquired Akeem Dent from the Falcons via trade and then re-signed him to a two-year deal this offseason. His contributions last year were mainly on special teams and it will be interesting to see if his role will expand this year. Jeff Tarpinian continues to offer depth and valuable contributions on special teams. The Texans re-signed him earlier in the offseason to a one-year deal. John Simon is an interesting player to watch. Drafted in the 2014 NFL draft in the fourth round, Simon was later cut and spent time on the Ravens practice squad before the Texans signed him. He played extremely well when called upon and Bill O’Brien seems to really like him. Jason Akrah is a player who bounced between the practice squad and the active roster during the 2014 season. The former Cornhusker was asked by the Texans staff to convert from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB. It remains to be seen if he will be able to make the jump or not.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS D.J. Swearinger, FS Rahim Moore, CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Kareem Jackson
Backups: SS Eddie Pleasant, FS Lonnie Ballentine, CB Darryl Morris CB Jumal Rolle CB Andre Hal, CB AJ Bouye

Starting DBs: D.J. Swearinger headlines this group. Entering his third season with the Texans, he has become a staple of this secondary, posting 51 solo tackles and 22 assists in 2014. Former Broncos FS Rahim Moore was added via free agency this offseason and will most likely be a good scheme fit for this group. This will probably be the last year with the Texans for Johnathan Joseph, who will be 32 in 2016. After flirting with signing elsewhere this offseason, Kareem Jackson re-signed with the Texans, helping maintain the cohesion of this unit. There is a real possibility that the Texans may consider taking another corner in the 2015 draft, especially with the probable exit of Joseph coming in 2016.

Backup DBs: There isn’t much to be excited about in this group. There are perhaps two exceptions, the first being Darryl Morris. He was picked up when the 49ers waived him after training camp in 2014 and he played well as the team’s slot corner. The second exception is Jumal Rolle. Rolle spent some time with the Packers in ‘13 and ‘14 before landing with the Texans. His work with famed Packers assistant Joe Whitt paid off, as Rolle led the Texans in interceptions in 2014. Eddie Pleasant is primarily a special teamer. 2014 seventh-rounder Lonnie Ballentine spent the year on IR and is no lock to make the 53-man roster in 2015. Andre Hal fits into a similar mold as Pleasant. He was also a seventh-round selection in 2014 and did not show much in his limited playing time in preseason last year. Though A.J Bouye certainly looks the part and has the physical gifts, he simply hasn't put it all together on the field.

Last modified: 2015-05-04 21:47:30